Did Marks & Spencer’s Michael Marks start his business in Stockton?

Did Michael Marks, the founder of Marks & Spencer PLC, start his business selling goods on Stockton Market? Hoping to find larger suppliers he travelled to Leeds, where he met Issac Dewhurst, a prominent Leeds wholesaler who opened him a trade account to purchase goods to resell in the Stockton-on-Tees area 1883/84…

Details courtesy of Bob Wilson. (Photographs courtesy of Marks & Spencers PLC)

14 thoughts on “Did Marks & Spencer’s Michael Marks start his business in Stockton?

  1. Why did Michael Marks head south from Hartlepool to Stockton with its tiny Jewish presence and then move on to Leeds? Most Jews turned north for Sunderland, since it had the largest Jewish community outside London in this era. The fact that Michael Marks opened his first Stockton shop in Bishop Street, where a majority of the local Jewish businesses were, suggests he knew the local Jewish community (and certainly so, after it opened). It is more likely that Marks may have known Eli Goldston father of Gerald, since the former had his business in ‘The Square’ in the early days, very close to Bishop Street. Both Marks and Goldston later moved to separate business premises in the High Street.


    • I wonder if it was purely a business decision to move to Stockton because of Stockton Market which attracted lots of customers? Would be interesting to find out his exact reasons.


    • In the 1880s, the Port of Sunderland exported huge amounts of coal to the eastern Baltic, but there was little return trade, so in order to generate extra income ships returning to their British home ports accepted Russian/Polish/Lithuanian Jews as foot passengers, rather than lose money by returning empty in ballast, this explains in part why Sunderland once had a vibrantJewish Community, the founding members were once emigrant passengers who had arrived on the returning coal or timber ships. The history of the Wilson Shipping Line, Hull, and its passenger ticket sales policies in Russia reveal a great deal more.

      To understand Michael Marks life better, this graphic description of life in the Russian Stetl area given by Masha Greenbaum provides better information:- ‘Unemployment was endemic; such work as was available hardly sufficed to provide a subsistence standard of living. Hunger and sickness were prevalent, aggravated by general despair. As many as 12 families shared dwellings of three or four rooms. The average worker took home 15 kopeks per day, a few cents in modern terms. Almost 40 percent of Jewish families in the Stetl received welfare assistance of some kind, chiefly aid from relations overseas. Four-fifths of the Jewish population of Vilna lived from one day to the next. Jews in the Shtetl, the small Jewish townlets, fared even worse; their diet was comprised of a few potatoes and seasonal vegetables.’.Such difficulties were exacerbated by the fact that Jewish enrolment in high schools was limited to 10 percent; they were prohibited from either owning or tenanting land, and from entry into the legal and medical professions. A corrupt bureaucracy with bribery expectations from every minor transaction ruled and behind the scenes was the unwritten law that economic hardship was to be forced on Jews by denying them the basic right of all men to work.


  2. I have just visited the Marks & Spencers PLC ‘Archives Website’, and on the front page it states these words: Trace the origins of M&S as a Penny Bazaar.
    In 1884 Michael Marks started business as a pedlar in the North East of England, selling small items for a penny each. Marks prospered and was able to set up a market stall in Leeds. He stuck to his fixed price policy and the Penny Bazaar was born. Partnership with Tom Spencer followed, as did expansion across the country. Discover Penny Bazaar merchandise, photographs and early business papers. This is important news for Stockton, which can be coupled with the Darlington and Stockton railway story. (PS:) I once lived in Seattle, Washington State, the main Seattle railway station has a massive wall mural about the birth of the railways and pride of place was an inner banner that must have been 20 foot long with the words ‘Darlington & Stockton Railways’ on it. What a surprise that was, an even bigger suprise when the *Mount St Helena volcano erupted. we used to sit on our veranda and watch it smoke and steam day after day.

    *On May 18, 1980, a major volcanic eruption occurred at Mount St. Helens, a volcano located in the state of Washington, United States. The eruption was preceded by a two-month series of earthquakes and steam-venting episodes. An earthquake on Sunday, May 18, 1980, caused the entire north face to slide away, creating the largest landslide ever recorded in the US. An eruption column rose 80,000 feet into the atmosphere and deposited volcanic ash in 11 U.S. states.


  3. If you are ever visiting Leeds, go into Kirkgate market where there is an M&S heritage stall with photos and information about them. You can also follow the M&S route round the city with various points of interest about them, finishing up at the museum. It’s worth doing ,though you may need to finish off the trail by taking the bus to the museum as it is out of the centre.


  4. The side door on the still existing building on Stockton High Street sill has the letters M&S in concrete on the decorated arch above the door.Regards


  5. My wife Marie Brown( Nee Kennedy) (deceased) worked for Mr Gerald Goldston Chartered Accountant in High street Stockton and told the me what Mr Goldston had told to his staff , that he was a friend of the founder of Marks and Spencers and that on one of his trips to America decided to call in on his old friend for a chat about old times. On presenting himself to the Head Office complex of his old friend and asking to see him he was told that Mr Marks did not know of any Mr Gerald Goldston of Stockton England .So it appears that Mr Marks was not interested in any friends from Stockton. This sort of action does not do Mr Marks any credit, as Mr Goldston was not wanting any hand outs, being the owner of a very successful Chartered Accountants company in Stockton and being a wonderful person and employer, who looked after his staff in the best traditions of a Gentleman, Gerald was also a very keen Train spotter as his hobby and used to live near Ropner Park with his property adjoining the rail line running alongside Ropner Park. .

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    • Michael Marks was the founder of M Marks & Company, he commenced business trading as a sole trader. The partnership with Tom Spencer was entered into in 1984, and formalised by the incorporation of Marks & Spencer Limited that year. In 1907 Michaels Marks died age 44 in Manchester, and is buried in Crumpsall Cemetary. Michaels Marks never visited America, and had no offices there.

      Simon Marks his son, was born in Leeds, later he moved to Wigan with his parents, then to Manchester, in later life he resided in London. In 1924, Simon Marks age 36, visited America to check out the popularity of Nickle and Dime stores – fixed price 10 cents self-service stores. Simon Marks had no connection with Stockton-on-Tees, there was no then M & S offices in the USA, and a more generous man in time, money and gifts to charity’s. and aiding others would be extremely hard to find. If Simon Marks said he knew no one called Gerald Goldston from Stockton, I would be inclined to believe him.


      • Mr Gerald Goldston stated he was a friend of the founder of the Marks and Spencer, to his staff according my wife Marie Kennedy, then that was gospel and if he stated as has been said on this site that the Founder of Marks and Spencer brushed him off without even meeting him in America that is also true, Mr Goldston would have no reason to make these statements if they were not true. Mr Gerald Goldston was a well respected Stocktonian, of many years standing in the community, and would have no reason what ever to make up stories.


  6. Dewhurst’s clothing/ tailoring manufacturing division continued their close relationship with M&S for many decades. Their factory at Redcar would often hold ‘Factory sale-days’, during which high-end M&S clothing could be purchased at a fraction of the store price.


  7. Michael Marks, the founder of Marks & Spencer Ltd, came from Russia to this country as a penniless immigrant, whose previous occupation was that of a pedlar. Along the way he encountered numerous trials and tribulations. Sadly, Michael Marks died young age 44, in 1907, his son and heir Simon Marks, the future Merchant Prince of British retailing, went on to achieve worldwide fame when, with just a small number of his late father’s former ‘Don’t Ask The Price, It’s a Penny Bazaars’, he went on to create the legendary Marks & Spencer PLC company, whose annual turnover today is £10 billion per year, with a presence in some 59 territories worldwide. In the UK, they have 852 stores, employ more than 83,000 people and serve over 33 million customers each week. All that needs to be added to this wonderful success story is; that it commenced in Stockton on Tees.

    The recorded early history of Marks & Spencer PLC, describes in rather sparse terms the life of Michael Marks, his hardships, failure, ambition and eventual success. It explains how following social unrest and riots in Russian provinces, Michael Marks left his birthplace Slonim, The Stetl, (present-day Lithuania, Belarus and Eastern Poland) he arrived by ship in Hartlepool, England, in 1882 (it was probably a Baltic timber ship delivering pit-mining props to the North East) from Hartlepool he journeyed to Stockton on Tees. During his journey Michael Marks must have wondered about his future prospects in England, and, it appears, he had decided to continue the same type of work that he had performed in Russia, door-to-door peddling. Pedlars are men who in their bags carried needles, threads, lace, ribbons, mirrors, watches, linens, bedding, as well as clothing patterns for women to sew their own clothes. Some pedlars carried samples of cloth and shoes, some measured their customers for suits and then on return visits brought the finished garments with them. We know Michael Marks father Mordechai was a tailor, so one must assume his son Michael entering the clothing trade was an option for the future. Montague Burton of Burton the Tailors followed a similar path in life. In Stockton Michael Marks probably learnt from other traders that the City of Leeds was the best place for contacting wholesalers, we know he visited Leeds looking for a supplier, and if that search failed he was hedging his bets by trying to obtain information about a Leeds company called John Barran & Company, who it was said had vacancies for immigrant tailors.

    Whilst Marks was in Kirkgate, Leeds, he met a Mr Isaac Dewhurst, a Leeds market traders wholesaler who sold to pedlars, a man who convinced him he would be better off continuing to work as a pedlar and offered to supply him with goods to resell. Michael Marks spent 12 years working as a pedlar and market trader, then wishing to expand he met with Isaac Dewhurst and Tom Spencer, Dewhurst cashier, to discuss forming a business partnership with them. Dewhurst declined Marks offer, but Tom Spencer agreed to the proposal and paid Michael Marks the sum of £300 for a half-share in his existing business. The new partnership was incorporated in 1894 as Marks & Spencer Limited. Michael Marks may have hired a market trader’s stall on Stockton market and sold goods there. We know that Michael Marks met his fiancé and future wife Hannah Cohen in Stockton; she resided there with her parents.

    The Marks & Spencer’s Museum have on display Michael Marks original pedlars’ bag, and, the Stockton on Tees link with him has been confirmed by *Asa Briggs, the Marks & Spencer Official Centenary 100 Years of trading biographer. For the reasons given Stockton Town Council should place a small plaque on the Town Hall stating: ‘Welcome To Stockton On Tees, the start up buisness commencement centre for Michael Marks, founder of Marks & Spencer PLC’ 1882, or in the alternative should make the Marks & Spencer PLC company, an honorary Corporate Citizen of Stockton on Tees (please bear in mind that no history of a subject is perfect and ‘findings’ are at best guesses at the time) all the evidence does point to Michael Marks start in Britain commenced here in Stockton on Tees.

    Bob Wilson, Barnard St, Thornaby.

    Footnotes: Asa Briggs. Life peer. English historian. He is a leading specialist on the Victorian era, and the foremost historian of broadcasting in Britain. Ref: See Briggs book Marks & Spencer 1884-1984: * Simon Marks is one of a select group of individuals who created huge business enterprises, other members of this elite group are: Julias Rosenwald – Sears Roebuck, Isaac Wolfson – Great Universal Stores, S. Kresge – K-Mart, F W Woolworth – Woolworths, and Sam Walton-Walmart.


    • Did know some of this from my Mother a dressmaker come tailor who always called M&S and Woolworth penny bazaar’s. Pre war she also bought some sewing things from a Pedlar at the door or on the Market where quite a few stalls sold cloth and sewing needs. At times on the way home from Richard Hind I would have a list to get things from the Bazaar Woolworth were usually best for the small items and of course two pence for the “0” bus home. Mother knew quite a lot of M&S and Woolworth history, as she was making a dress on the big kitchen table under the gas lamp (we had a three mantle one) she would tell my Sister and I there is a road up if you work hard enough, she was right.
      History is often distorted as it passes through families though the above posting is quite accurate to what Mother told me, I have no way of knowing but do wonder if in her young days she worked for one of them.


    • Marks and Spencer had a market stall in the market hall in Lynn Street, West Hartlepool in 1894, in 1896 Marks and Spencer’s store was opened in Lynn Street, West Hartlepool, photos of which can be found on the website, Hartlepool History, Then and Now


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